Marchers with the Homeless brave police intimidation and rain in Leeds

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The main banner at the start of the protest Leeds March with the Homeless

[Update – for more (and better) photos of the protest see Darryl Calvert Photography – this protest was also part of a national day of action against the Tory Housing Bill – see the national Socialist Worker roundup]

About fifty people – including many homeless people and their supporters – braved police intimidation and torrential rain to march twice around the city of Leeds on the evening of Friday 15 April in solidarity with homeless people – with many other homeless people and their supporters joining the march as it went around.  There was anger, not least since one of the organisers of the event, Wesley, was arrested very soon after the march set off – proving the point many homeless people in Leeds on the march were making about the state criminalisation and police harassment they have experienced through dispersal orders and yellow and red cards banning them from Leeds city centre.  ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ was one popular chant.  ‘Homelessness – no way! Tax the rich and make them pay!’ was another.

Since December groups like Leeds Homeless Support Group and Leeds Homeless Partnership have been organising visible soup kitchens and providing hot food in Leeds city centre on weekday evenings which have provided a lifeline and hope for some of the most vulnerable homeless people in Leeds, who often suffer mental health issues and sometimes have past criminal records and so find it difficult to access help from official homeless charities, alongside the wider housing crisis, benefit cuts and cuts to social spending which is deepening the crisis facing homeless people.  As Rob, one of those on the protest put it, ‘you can judge a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable people’.  Yet Leeds – the fourth richest city in the United Kingdom – has – as one school student Kirsty who had come to show solidarity pointed out on a home-made placard, has 10,724 empty homes but yet has 378 homeless people.  Ione, another school student who came to show solidarity on her first ever protest, had a placard quoting from the UN Declaration of Human Rights – ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living his health including housing’.

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Wesley, in an eloquent speech at the start of the protest declared himself an ‘agitator’ and attacked the government for their austerity programme and also attacked the police for criminalising homeless people through dispersal orders and handing out yellow and red cards excluding homeless people from the city centre.  The large numbers of police gathered even before the march set off showed, Wesley pointed out – the nature of how the police treat homeless people – ‘why are they policing a soup kitchen for the homeless?’
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Wesley gives an impassioned speech at the start of the protest – which at that point consisted of a few tables with food and a few dozen protesters – oh, and a comparatively large police presence nearby. 
As the march set off however, the police were determined to try and stop it disrupting traffic and after about five minutes used considerable force to arrest Wesley on the grounds this was an unauthorised march.  One Year 11 female school student was pushed by a policeman and had a panic attack.
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 The police arrest Wesley – why arrest someone helping organise a march in solidarity with homeless people in Leeds instead of going to Panama to arrest tax dodgers like Dodgy Dave? 
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Banner says it all…
Bravely, despite police intimidation and harassment the marchers regrouped – and succeeded in taking over the main roads and  defiantly marching twice round Leeds city centre – picking up sympathisers as they went along.  The feeling at the end was one of victory and solidarity despite the rain and the police – and anger that the police had arrested someone like Wesley – instead of focusing their efforts on ‘Dodgy Dave’ Cameron for his tax avoidance.
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 The march continues…
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 Anger on the march against the police, local council and the Tories – ‘Stop criminalising the homeless!’ 
[Apologies for poor quality pictures – it was torrential rain] – if anyone has further information or photos – or to correct any inaccuracies – please get in touch – thanks swp.leeds.events@gmail.com

 

Join the Yorkshire March for the NHS tomorrow – Saturday 16 April – 11.30am, Leeds City Art Gallery – Victoria Gardens

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